Once technology integration alone becomes a goal, we’re doing something wrong. – Fishtree
Just last week I found myself admitting to a colleague that in my seven years in education, I’ve never taught without a SMARTboard. That’s not to say I’ve used a SMARTboard in every learning activity I’ve ever facilitated, but I’ve always had the option and I’m thankful that I do. I love technology and have witnessed first hand how it can transform both teaching and learning. However, as technology access in schools improves (yay!), the amount of #edtech lingo floating around blogs, Twitter, and even the staff lounge is enough to make your head spin. It’s obvious that most teachers have good intentions when it comes to integrating technology, however, I’ve also noticed what I call technology for technology’s sake; a focus on the what (this tool or that) instead of the why. Where did I first see this take place? My own classroom. Therefore, to help keep myself focused on the why of technology integration, I ask myself these four questions (in this very particular order):
Or, even better, will there be a level of engagement and learning that wouldn’t have been possible without the presence of technology? Either way, this question is arguably the most important of the four as it addresses the why. How might using a specific tech tool enable you to differentiate or individualize learning for students? Will the inclusion of technology in the learning activity give voice to students who don’t typically have one? At its most basic level, the goal of our work in the classroom is that students learn concepts and develop skills. If integrating technology allows that to be done more equitably, effectively, or meaningfully… then have at it!
Just because technology integration can transform the way we teach and students learn, doesn’t mean traditional best practice flies out the window. Think about how the use of technology could enhance the strategies you know to be effective. For instance, I know that consistent and intentional formative assessment is a crucial component in my instruction. Without knowing what my students can and cannot do (yet) at any given moment, I don’t have the information I need to move forward in the learning activity in the most impactful way. How might I use technology to streamline this process and efficiently check understanding for each and every student? I like to think about it as using technology to enhance what I already know to be effective.
This one boils down to intentionality and organization. With anything that we do in the classroom, it seems that things are much more likely to be successful when our moves are well thought out and we are prepared. Have you ever noticed how your students just know when you’re not prepared? When that happens to me, you can feel a difference in the learning environment. It seems that when I don’t bring my best to the table, my students struggle to as well. Integrating technology to a learning activity can open up the opportunity for hiccups that may not have otherwise been an issue. The more prepared you are, the less likely these hiccups will derail your entire lesson.
Which leads us ever so seamlessly into the final question that I urge you to ask yourself when integrating technology into your classroom; what will you do if the tech piece fails? Computers break, tablets die, apps crash, and wifi goes out inexplicably and at the exact moment you need it most (it’s a scientific fact). You must have a backup plan. Sure, there are some lessons that can easily be readjusted to a low-tech alternative, but others might take some creativity to revise. At times, it might even be best to postpone a lesson that is tech-dependent if that is the best way for students to engage in that learning (think back to question one). Three and four really do go hand-in-hand. What is your plan and what is your plan b? And honestly, I’d be willing to argue that thinking these things through is important no matter what type of lesson we’re teaching, tech or not.
In this post, I didn’t dive in to specific tech tools or platforms, but instead focused on the thought process behind the implementation. What have you found that works or doesn’t when it comes to technology integration in your classroom, building, or district? What are some successes and challenges that teachers and students have faced? And of course, please share specific tech tools that come to mind when thinking about best practice in implementation!